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Friday, January 07, 2011

Love Story

Let me tell you a love story.

I fell in love with a girl.  We had known each other for awhile.  Somehow it happened.  One day, the one who had been important, hopeful, fun, pretty, interesting, smart… all the reasons we gravitate toward someone … all of that was suddenly deepened.  I had fallen!

Then, because our lives are not fixed in place like bedrock but flowing like rivers and wind, she went away.  Not forever, but for a long time.  This meant that every day I didn't hear her voice.  I had things to talk to her about and she was not there to listen. 

An ache that had begun in anticipation of the separation deepened.  Do you know this ache?  It comes to us in different ways.

For me in those days, it grew into a bite, like something was torn out of me. 

One creation story says that God took a rib out of Adam to create Eve.  Do you think that's a literal creation act?  Maybe.  But it is powerfully true.  All of us are likely to know the feeling. There is something of ourselves missing, some emptiness.  The lover believes his lover is the one missing, and that's what I felt. 

It was serious, momentous, powerful, painful.

She was gone.  Nevertheless, in her absence, she was present all the time.  Her absence was real and the place where she should have been was, in its way, as emotionally and spiritually tangible as her presence would have been.

In her absence, she was present all the time.

This was in the days you may remember, some of you more vividly than others, when phone calls across oceans were expensive.  There was no email.  We wrote letters.  I longed to pour myself into these letters but I knew they would be unreadable!  My life had nothing much new happening in it since I was the one who stayed behind.  What would I write about?  I am grateful that this was at a time of my life when my work demanded a lot from me physically.  That helped – during work hours, anyway.  Anyway, I wrote what seemed to me to be a whole lot. I wrote what seemed to me to be - regularly!  She wrote what seemed to me to be - occasionally.

Then came a brief reunion.  I traveled to where she was.  It was wonderful!  It was difficult.

You know that in relationship, the commitment and passion varies?  One person has more than the other?  This is natural – we're not the same as one another!  Relationships that last move toward equal intensity over time, I think.  Still, we each experience the variations and sometimes they are acute.  "I need her more than she needs me," we say.  "She loves him more than he loves her," we observe.  "He works harder at the relationship than he does," we think and we think the friendship might not get off the ground.  A woman works to keep the connection alive while her lover seems to take it or leave it.

The thing to try to keep in mind about this phenomenon of 'variable intensity' is that we never really know what's going on for the other person.  At our best times, communication in a relationship is strong and we have a good idea about where the other person is.  At other times, we assume that what we "know" is also what is the objective truth.  Mostly, we accept what we "know" and the assumptions underlying our certainty are based on the reality we experience. 

What that means is, that as I am rising and falling in my passion, that's all I can know for sure.  Here is a lesson for those of you in friendships, partnerships, marriages, and families.  Tread very gently when you find yourself having an opinion about what the other person feels, needs, or loves.  Tread gently, because your own view is only your own view.  You would do well to check your assumptions.

So, the reunion was sweet, but it was bittersweet.  It was brief, as I said.  When separation again happened, the bite sharpened again. I "knew" that I needed and loved her more than she missed me and loved me.  After all, she was the one having the new experiences: the freshness of new friendship, the exertion of adapting to a new place, the fulfillment of a long-held dream.  It seemed clear to me, there wasn't really any room for me at all.

This made me feel dependent, needy, weak, out of control, unsatisfied, …  Those feelings lead to bad places.  They lead you down the path of despair.  I walked that road, angry to be there, helpless to turn a different way.  Sometimes, I was angry with her.  In her absence, she was present all the time.

Every day wasn't like that, I think.  What would make one day better than another?  We have some phrases that help to explain it.  "Cooler heads prevailed."  "Things look different 'by the cold light of day.'" 

Keeping busy was helpful. 

Denial was helpful. 

There was another helpful thing too.  It was no compliment to her that I doubted her love for me.  It was unfair.  So, one antidote was to remind myself what she had said to me, pledged to me. 

I remembered our shared experiences and I reminded myself what we had for plans.  More than that, we had a certain way of living.  It was a certain combination of hopefulness, delight, and energy, on the one hand, with an acute attention to reality, a determination that the world should be a better place, a refusal to let situations be controlled by other people's soap opera needs, and a resolve to accept lessons learned from other lives.   So, my response to missing her was to refuse to turn away from the path we had begun to walk together.  I would continue to become who we were becoming and then I wouldn't have just been treading water, waiting for her to return. 

… and then in her absence, she was present all the time.

Consider this poem, "Song of the Lover."

Our spiritual hunger is like love. You may be the most reserved person you know.  You may be the least likely person to read poetry or to burst into song or dance.  But in your interior life, you know what it is to love; to love a lover, to love a friend, to love a labrador retriever, to love your mother, to love your country, your child, your cousin, … to love your neighbor.  So I suggest that the dynamics of my story find a fit somewhere in your life.

Our spirituality is about how we relate to the center of being, the source at the heart of being alive.  Our spirituality is how we are in love with God. 

When you feel God close to you, you feel any number of different things.  One time, you may be afraid.  Another time you may feel like you are walking on air.  The moment speaks to you in a way that you cannot ignore.  We say we have felt the presence of God when we see green sprouts in the spring soil, when we see branches etched in a November sky; when we see the look of delight on a child's face.  We can't ignore it.

These encounters may be bittersweet. 

Because other times we miss God's closeness.  When we listen for the voice and there is no voice.  When we speak toward the holiness of creation and can't discern that anyone hears, then we miss God. 
We may then feel dependent, needy, weak, out of control, unsatisfied, …  Those feelings lead to bad places.  They lead you down the path of despair.  I have walked that road, angry to be there, helpless to turn a different way.  Sometimes, I was angry with God.  Sometimes, beyond anger to apathy.  I didn't care.

Consider Psalm 42.

The singer feels the bitter bite of being abandoned by God. 

Beloved, we have all been abandoned. 

Then the singer makes a sudden, holy turn as if to say, nevertheless! 


Nevertheless, says the singer, I will behave in this world in the way that my encounter with God has shown me I can behave.  I fell for God and I can't look upon life the old way ever again.  I am born anew. 

Even in her absence, God is present all the time. 

You are invited into an encounter with the holy not so you can have an ecstatic experience.  You are not invited so that you can be fulfilled.  You are invited to encounter God in the midst of life so that in your dealings, your coming and going, you are a different person because even in his absence, God is present all the time.  You are walking in the kingdom of God.  God's responsibility for creating this world is shared with you.  You are transformed! 

When you long for the presence of God, feeling the absence, feeling the bite, you can know that God is with you because you feel the longing.  In those times, remember to claim the person you can be when the holy is present.  Remember to live as the person you were meant to be.  Then, even in the absence of God, God is present all the time. 

November 2009

Psalm 42:1-8

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night,
while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"

These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
For I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;

I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

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Song of the Lover

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my heart pants for you.
I thirst for you, for your living, breathing self.
When can I go and meet with you?

My tears have been my food day and night,
while everyone I meet seems to be saying to me all day long, "Where
is she? Are you still together?"

These things I remember
as my emotions, my very soul seems to pour out of me and leave me
I remember
how I used to walk along the beach or the street with a smile for
everyone. It was easy to be happy.
I can remember
I used to sing on my way to meet you each day, even when I was tired
from work. And when I saw you, I'd be full of gratitude that would
spill over so that everyone around us would glow with warmth and joy.

Why am I so sad, so downcast? What's the matter with me!
Why so disturbed within me?
I say to myself, "Get hold of yourself!"
"Put your hope in her, for even though she is gone, yet you shall
claim - I claim a healthy love for her."

All of who I am is downcast within me; so here's what I will do.
I will actively remember
you in all the places we love, the shoreline, the sunset, the cloud-
islands, the music.
As I remember,
it comes back to me. We are strong together. Our humor is
irresistible to ourselves, of course, but to others as well. Our
dreaming has power and is matched by our determination and our skill.

You are beautiful, but if you were less beautiful, your clear light
would be undiminished in the world, in my life.

I know that it is true that you long for me too.

When I hear the music we love, it is like we are again sharing the

November 2009

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Listening to Angels

When Zechariah saw [the angel,] he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John...'
Zechariah said to the angel, 'How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.'
The angel replied, 'I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.'

That passage from the first chapter of Luke is part of the epic story of Jesus' birth, part of Christmas!  This Zechariah will be the father of John whom we call "The Baptist," who will prepare the way for Jesus.  In the story, Gabriel coolly explains that there are consequences when one dares to ask an angel for clarification.  (Perhaps Gabriel was not wearing his Nike "Just Do It!" t-shirt that day.)  We can sympathize with Zechariah, can't we?  We spend a lot of energy saying to each other, "How will I know that this is so?"

Actually, this is a savvy way to deal with contractors and children, infomercial spokespersons and lovers, teachers and preachers.  Many promise us that they will do such-and-such a thing.  Frequently, people claim the wisdom to say how events will unfold.  Consider how nuclear arms treaty conversations always include the phrase we attribute to President Reagan, "Trust, but verify!"

Does the Bible, then, suggest that we are not to be clever and careful about such matters?  No, of course not.  We are elsewhere advised to be clever as serpents and gentle as doves.  So don't forget to be clever in your life and go ahead and ask the question, "How will I know that this is so?"

Then again, this is no roofing contractor promising no more leaks.  This is the angel of the Lord.  I think that Gabriel had some basis for expecting that anything he had to say would be taken on trust – no "verify" required.  There are some people whose relationship with me is so deep and long that when they say something will happen I know that it will.  And yet, that's not the same as what Gabriel expected of Zechariah.

I propose that you think about this truth.  God is neither a contractor nor a trusted family member.  God is not even a person at all.  God is the space from which the future arises, the domain where hope lives, the home of the assurance that we are part of the creating universe, the essence of all life, the possibility of love and the source of all true love.  When you read where God speaks to characters in stories, you should understand that the voice arises from within – from a place so deep and connected within us that it seems like it comes from another person.  When we understand the words of the angel, we have already heard the truth, we already know that this is so.  When Zechariah speaks, he reveals his confusion about how he knows anything to be true or where meaningful truth begins.

It is winter as I write this and we recently had a mid-winter thaw.  That which was bound up and frozen has been released.  In time, Zechariah's inability to speak was relieved by the very birth of which Gabriel spoke.  Zechariah's first words were, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!"  I'm guessing that for the rest of his life, Zechariah took what any angel cared to share with him as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  May you and I be kind enough to do the same.